Reaching out beyond the church doors to the world
Reaching out beyond the Church doors to the World
John Klassen April 23 2017
My words today are based on my memories and Langley Mennonite Fellowship records.
From its beginnings, LMF has sought to reach out to the wider Langley and BC communities in order to demonstrate the practical everyday love of Jesus.
The drive behind this outreach came from the people of the congregation. This was apparent in 1997, during the campaign to raise funds to build a new church. That year the members proposed that we set aside ten percent of the money raised for a service fund, dedicated for a project separate from the church’s needs. The congregation decided to finance a restorative justice project in the Langley School district.
To give as wide as possible picture here is a list of actions representing some of LMF’s outreach to the community.
- When LMF purchased a larger building on 56th and 198th, we shared our space with Langley Adult Daycare Centre. The center ran a program for seniors during the week.
- LMF alerted the people at the popular annual Abbotsford Air show that many of the airplanes were built to destroy life.
- From the beginning, LMF has also helped refugees. We used our church building as a sanctuary for a mother and her four sons, refugees from Somalia, whom the government of Canada wanted to deport. We also sponsored refugees from many parts of the world, beginning with Vietnamese “boat people”. Our commitment continues as we prepare for refugees from Syria.
- LMF also sought to serve single mothers and their children through the Langley Open Door,
- LMF began a recycling program in 1990.
- We were a regular participant in the annual lively Vancouver Peace Walk in the 1980s where we found ourselves alongside groups such as ‘Prostitutes for Peace’ and ‘Punks for Peace”
- A number of people associated with LMF, served with Christian Peacemaker Teams in various places of the world.
Now I want to give some time to our participation in restorative justice.
In 1981, LMF divided the time of our first fulltime pastor into two parts: 75% of his time included traditional pastoral roles; preaching and listening. Lay members preach two Sundays a month. 25% of his time was given to organize the Victim Offender Reconciliation Program [VORP]. In 1985 it became independent of Langley Mennonite Fellowship and was renamed Community Justice Initiatives. LMF continues to have members on the board.
Restorative justice for CJI means that Justice involves the victim, the offender, and the community in a search for solutions that promote repair, reconciliation and reassurance. CJI works through official criminal justice channels and seeks to bring victim and offender together. It has expanded its programs and influence throughout many parts of the globe.
When we hear stories of victims and offenders, Forgiveness, a word central to the Christian faith, comes up a lot. One example from CJI: is Story of two mothers brought together by a murder: one was the mother of the offender, the other the mother of the victim. The following comes from the report the mothers gave at the 2013 annual meeting.
Twenty years after his trial, as the offender’s parole hearing approached, he met with the sister of the victim, the beginning of a healing exchange. CJI taped their meeting, and the two mothers saw the video. When they met, the victim’s mother and the offender spoke openly about the horrible night the offender killed her son. The offender expressed how sorry he was for his crime. The victim’s mother was touched by the changes she saw in the offender and she offered to speak on his behalf at his parole hearing. After a some hours of frank discussion the victim’s mother turned to face the offender’s mother, saying.” I want to apologize to you. ” The offender’s mother was shocked by her offer.
“Yes” the victim’s mother said. I was so angry and hurt that I think I treated you poorly during the trial. The offender’s mother said, I have no memory of your treating me poorly. In fact, I’ve been praying for you all these years that someday you won’t have to hurt so much.
The victim’s mother told the offender that she had brought him a gift and she passed a package to him across the large oval table. It’s a dog, she said, a stuffed dog. And when you get out I’m going to buy you your first real dog. Then she went around the table to embrace the offender. Without a moment’s hesitation he stood up to accept her hug. Before going back to sit down, the woman whispered, ‘I forgive you’ into his ear. At the close of the meeting the two mothers and the offender agreed to remain in contact.
When I think back on these events, and hear how both victims and offenders experience forgiveness, I am in awe. LMF’s humble step trying to respond to God in simple faith, has lead to profound experiences of redemption for many people. May God be glorified, and thank you Langley Mennonite Fellowship!